A Grateful Farewell to an Authentic Church

Sermon by Courtney Allen

II Corinthians 13:11-13

When I describe Lloyd Presbyterian Church to people, I begin by saying it is a remarkable yet small community of faith that loves and embraces all of God’s people and you never know who you will find or what might happen when you show up here.  Then I describe this church’s African-American history and its present leadership of a white female pastor in the heart of Winston Salem, where the people of God have been faithfully worshipping, providing hospitality, and tending to the needs of the community for well over one hundred years.  Lloyd is a place where the heart of justice beats and the loving hospitality will transform you.

I first came to this unique place nearly three years ago when I was seeking a place to serve for my second year internship during divinity school.  But truth be told, two of the main reasons I came here were because Lloyd had a female senior pastor (which is harder to find than you might think), and I had heard you were a people who seriously cared about the community that surrounds you.  But the kind of care and hospitality I have experienced and witnessed here has been far greater than I had even dreamed!

So during this week in which I have begun to pack boxes for new ministry opportunities many miles away, I have struggled with what Good News God is calling me to share with you this morning.  Should I preach on the mesmerizing creation story from Genesis from today’s lectionary or maybe Matthew’s great commission to go therefore and make disciples also this week’s lectionary texts?  Making disciples is after all the second part of our vision statement: Following Jesus, Making Disciples, and Serving God’s people.

Then I came across the lectionary’s epistle text from II Corinthians where Paul, also, is saying good bye to a community of faith he has loved, cared for, struggled with, and been shaped by.  So I have been pondering how to say ‘farewell’ to you as Paul so beautifully does in his letter signing off to the Corinthians.

And the only way I know to say farewell to you is to share with you as best I can what you have modeled for me in terms of community, church, love, witness, and authentic attempts to follow Jesus, make disciples, and serve God’s people.

Lloyd Presbyterian Church, you are an authentic church.  You have taught me what it means to be a church that seeks to bear a striking and clear resemblance to Jesus.  You have been so authentically a church that, I have felt I have encountered Christ himself when I come here.  Lloyd, you are not simply followers of Christ, but a community that facilitates encounters with the living Jesus himself.

Your very way of life in your comforting of the brokenhearted and in your confrontation with the systems of injustice in the world, gives witness to Jesus himself.  And this witness to Jesus is at the heart of being an authentic church and a place of belonging for so many, including myself.  Being an authentic church is providing a place where people feel they belong and are in authentic relationships with each other and with Jesus.

No matter who we are, where we’ve come from, what we’ve done or left undone, we all desire and seek relationships that are genuine.  This church has so genuinely loved me so many in this sanctuary.  If you haven’t been at Lloyd long enough to feel the depth of this authentic love, stick around.  It will catch up with you before you know it and I hope that you, too, will feel that you have encountered Jesus at Lloyd Presbyterian Church.

Right here between this pulpit and these pews, I have witnessed great hospitality and kingdom-like community when people who don’t think, look, or talk alike break bread together and read scripture.

In the foyer of the Forsyth County jail I have witnessed expressions of grace and love and a willingness to be present with members of this community who were hurting, scared, and in trouble.

In singing the Amen chorus each week I have felt the deep joy of praising God for all God has done, is doing, and will do in this fellowship.

In our backyard I have seen what it means to plant seeds in good earth and watch a community harvest from the bounty of a garden tended and cared for by people from all walks of life.  You have been a witness to Jesus’s words that the harvest is indeed plenty even if the workers are few.

In session meetings I have seen how a place with few economic resources in the eyes of the world, operates with a theology of abundance, sharing Lloyd’s resources with the world.  This small church has wide arms and a deep impact in this city and around the globe…from our Spring for Haiti event to Habitat for Humanity to supporting missionaries in Ethiopia.  These generous acts are a bold witness to your faith in God and sense of how God’s good blessings must be shared with the world!

In hearing about new ideas from Acts 16:5 gatherings I have been awed by what can happen we faithful people get together and dream with God about things yet unseen.

I have learned from you this kingdom of God kind of mustard-seed thinking, where you think beyond the here and now and you envision the miracles that are possible with God.  You employed mustard seed thinking when in 2008 you asked the community to help restore these historic yet still full of the Spirit walls.  Something small can be transformed into something great with God. You have taught me that mustard seed thinking means paying attention…paying attention particularly to what may seem insignificant because that may just be where God is already moving and shaking.  Your mustard seed thinking has challenged me to live beyond doubt and worldly constraints and live into the extravagant possibilities of the kingdom of God in the here and now.

Lloyd, you have taught me to depend on the Spirit of God in all things, for it is the Spirit of God leads us into dreaming with God.  That’s what’s going on here.  This motley group of people who gather on Sunday mornings are dreaming with God and listening for the nudges and leanings of the Holy Spirit, all the while hugging one another and offering hospitality to the tired and hungry, the weary and worn.

It is all of these things that allow me to say that this small yet strong in the Spirit community of God’s people is a truly authentic church.  You are a people who seek to Follow Jesus, grow disciples, and serve God’s people.  You have led me, and I am sure others, into encounters with Jesus and relationships that have nurtured and transformed us.

As Paul says to the Corinthians in this mornings reading, “May the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, Lloyd Presbyterian Church.”  Let me also encourage and remind you of Jesus’s promise in the great commission to be with us always.  This is God’s great commitment to us, which I think allows us to be the authentic church…instruments of love, grace, and community among one another and in the world.

I believe it takes God to explain what goes on here at 748 North Chestnut Street.  In the eyes of many it doesn’t make sense that this white church is still standing and still full of life and love.  It takes God to explain why were all here this morning and why with love we comfort the brokenhearted and confront the world’s broken systems. Only the presence of God can explain how this little white church continues to shine so bright with love and light.

So keep at it, Lloyd.  Stay focused on loving people well and sharing hospitality with all who enter through these doors.  Continue comforting the world’s brokenhearted and confronting the world’s broken systems.  Keep facilitating encounters with Jesus for all of God’s people.  Keep loving each other as you have been loved by God and creating spaces in which that healing love can be expressed and extended to all.  Keep making Jesus real for all of us, for he has promised to be with us always.

And let us all keep dreaming with God about what is next for this church.  What kind of new ministries and encounters with God might mustard seed thinking lead Lloyd to next?

The Spirit is at work here, I am certain.  You are sending me forth into a life of ministry with a model of church and community that many people, much less ministers, never experience.  I am grateful to have served with you over these years.  Thanks be to God for the ever present Spirit within this church and the opportunity to encounter Jesus in the love, grace, hospitality, and fellowship of an authentic church.  Thank you, Lord, for this good church.  Amen.

 

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